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Bad reporting: Criminalizing clients may well endanger Cape Breton sex workers

In 2014 sex workers and their allies rallied in Halifax against Bill C-36, under which the Sydney charges were laid. Photo Robert Devet

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Cape Breton Regional Police (CBRP) have charged eighteen men, ranging in age from 26 to 85, with communicating for the purpose of obtaining sexual services in Sydney, Cape Breton.

Identical stories in the Chronicle Herald and the Cape Breton Post quote extensively from a news release issued by the police earlier this week, and list the names and addresses of the men arrested. Another story in the two papers provides further context.

“The object with an operation of this nature is to interrupt the illegal and dangerous activity that continues to disrupt our community,” Cape Breton Regional Police Chief Peter McIsaac is quoted as saying in a press release.

“While we have made another significant impact with 18 more arrests, we know our work is far from over. There are more individuals out there exploiting women — and exploiting their vulnerable situations — which is something we take very seriously and absolutely will not tolerate,” the press release states.

In 2015 Cape Breton Regional Police engaged in a similar wave of arrests, affecting  27 men. I wrote about it in the Halifax Media Co-op.

Many sex workers and their allies argue that arresting johns is not the way to go.

A study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) Open, that looked at similar police tactics in Vancouver in 2014 found that criminalizing clients endangers the health and safety of the most marginalized sex workers in Vancouver.

“Harassing the clients is exactly the same as harassing the women. You harass the clients and you are in exactly the same spot you were before. I’m staying on the streets. I’m in jeopardy of getting raped, hurt.” said Jasmine, a sex worker, in the BMJ Open report.  

As happens so often in these kinds of articles, the nameless reporter(s) who wrote the Chronicle Herald/Cape Breton Post stories don’t bother talking with any of the Sydney sex workers central to the story. Marginalized, and often indigenous, sex workers tend not to matter a whole lot in mostly white and middle class newsrooms.

The men have not yet been convicted of any crime, and publishing their names in a local newspaper may well stigmatize entirely innocent spouses and children by association. In 2015 two of the charged men were acquitted and charges against two others were dismissed.

See also: Cops aplenty, but no sex workers in CBC Nova Scotia story on sex work


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